are gerbils smelly

Are Gerbils Smelly Pets? (Helpful Tips to Prevent Bad Smells)

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One of the concerns that most people have when getting a pet is that the pet might have a bad smell or that their house will smell bad after a while. For a lot of pets this can indeed be a concern. But do gerbils stink or have a bad smell? Are gerbils smelly pets?

Gerbils produce little urine and feces. This causes them to have little to no smell (odor). Gerbils do use scent glands on their stomachs to mark their territory but this doesn’t cause a bad smell. When you do notice a bad smell coming from your gerbil, get your gerbil examined by a vet.

Although gerbils – in general – aren’t smelly you do have to clean the cage and its interior regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause bad smells. If you don’t clean enough the accumulated feces, urine, and scent marking on the interior can cause a smelly cage. The smell then comes from the cage and not from the gerbil itself.

There are some diseases that can cause your gerbil to smell. If you notice a smell that comes from your gerbil itself, you should go to a vet as soon as possible to get your gerbil examined.

In this article, you’ll learn why gerbils are almost odorless and usually don’t cause bad smells. You’ll also learn what can cause bad smells and how to prevent them from happening.

Why Aren’t Gerbils Smelly?

Gerbils live in arid regions and are used to live without a lot of water. Mongolian gerbils live in the Gobi desert and need to drink only 5 ml of water each day. In the wild, most water intake comes from the food they consume.

Because gerbils only drink a little bit they also produce only a small bit of urine. According to an article by L. Stockberger, they produce only 2 to 3 drops of highly concentrated urine. The feces that are produced by gerbils are also small and hard (because of the lack of water). This causes both the urine and feces to have (almost) no smell.

What Can Cause a Gerbil To Smell?

The smell that you might notice in a gerbil cage can come from either the cage (and its interior) or from the gerbil itself. The smells that come from the cage (and interior) can be caused by:

  • scent marking: gerbils have scent glands on their stomachs and they use these to mark their territory. You can expect that your gerbils will mark their toys, hides, and even the bedding and cage.
  • too much urine and feces (buildup of bacteria): although gerbils only produce a little bit of urine and feces it can become too much. This happens when you don’t clean the cage regularly. The urine is broken down by bacteria into ammonia and this produces a specific smell.
  • highly concentrated urine (caused by dehydration): highly concentrated urine causes a stronger ammonia smell.
  • stale or rotten food: vegetables and fruit can go bad very fast and can give a bad smell in the cage. Seed mixes and pellet food can also go stale and give a musky smell after a while.

If your gerbils themselves are smelly, it can be caused by:

  • stress or fright: stress and fright can cause your gerbils to have a stronger smell. Stress can for example be caused by overcrowding and humidities higher than 50 percent.
  • bad hygiene: it’s possible that your gerbil isn’t properly bathing in its sandbath. Make sure that a sandbath is always available. This will also help to limit the urinating on the bedding as most gerbils use sandbaths as a toilet area.
  • health issues: bad-smelling gerbils are often associated with health issues. For example, the condition called wet-tail is associated with a bad or foul smell.

How to Prevent and Stop Bad Smells of Gerbils?

Although bad smells are more an exception than a rule, bad smells can happen. The following good practices will prevent this from happening and can remedy bad smells:

  • proper ventilation of the gerbil cage
  • deep layer of absorbing substrate (bedding)
  • healthy and nutritional diet
  • regular cleaning of the cage
  • bathing your gerbils (sand bath)
  • regular medical examination by a vet

Well-ventilated gerbil cage

A lack of ventilation can cause the smells in the cage to accumulate. Fresh air is essential, not only for your gerbils but also to clean the air in the cage.

A ventilation cover on top of the gerbilarium is often sufficient to provide enough ventilation. A wire cage or cage topper also provides good ventilation, but is less recommended for gerbils as a housing option.

Deep layer of absorbing substrate

Choose for an absorbing and odor-controlling substrate like a paper-based substrate to control the smell of the urine and feces. Studies have shown that paper-based bedding is two times more absorbent than wood shavings.

Although gerbils aren’t smelly a good substrate is necessary to absorb smells, aside from being necessary to build tunnels and stay stress-free.

Healthy and nutritional diet

A healthy gerbil diet that contains all nutrients will help keep your gerbils healthy. Provide enough water so your gerbil doesn’t dehydrate but also make sure that you don’t give too much food (like fruit or vegetables) that is high in water content because this can lead to diarrhea.

Cleaning of the cage

Spot-clean daily and remove uneaten food from the cage. Sift the sand in the sandbath daily. A thorough cleaning of the gerbil cage can be done once a month to be sure that the cage stays clean.

Some gerbil owners will also advise refreshing small parts of the bedding each week but this might not be necessary if you spot-clean the cage and if your gerbils use the sandbath as a toilet area.

Don’t overdo on cleaning as this can sometimes cause your gerbils to scent mark the cage and the interior even more.

Bathing your gerbils

Gerbils don’t need water baths but they do need to have a sandbath available. This sandbath is used by gerbils to keep their fur clean, healthy, and smell-free. Such sandbaths are also good to decrease the risk of facial dermatitis.

In some specific situations, it might be necessary to spot-clean your gerbil with a little bit of water.

Medical examinations

If you notice that there’s a bad smell coming from your gerbil or from its urine, it’s possible that your gerbil has health issues. Look for other signs of illness such as diarrhea or a loss of appetite. Don’t hesitate to consult a vet if you’re sure that the smell doesn’t come from the cage, bedding, or interior.

Recommended Products to Prevent Smells in a Gerbil Cage

If you want to keep the gerbil cage as smell-free as possible, I would recommend the following products:

Don’t use perfumes on your gerbils or on their cage. Gerbils have very sensitive noses and can get irritations from the perfumes. Besides that, perfumes can stress your gerbils as it masks their own smell (which is essential to recognize other group members).

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about gerbils as pets (or other pocket pets), please read the following articles:

If you’re interested in getting gerbils as pets you should also definitely read our beginner’s guide to keeping gerbils as pets and our gerbil care guide.


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